Vikas Gowda, India's most successful discus thrower, tired but at peace with himself post-retirement

At six-foot-nine and weighing 140 kg, discus thrower Vikas Gowda has a towering presence but he does not intimidate you. He is shy and speaks softly, ensuring the tag of a genial giant sits perfectly on him. He is uncomfortable handling the arc lights and stays away from social media. True to his style, he is ill at ease handling the numerous phone calls and WhatsApp messages clogging his mobile ever since he announced his sudden decision to retire from athletics, a couple of hours ago. The timing, barely three months before the Asian Games, has surprised many.

“It was not a decision because of the fear of failure at the Asian Games. I was confident that I could win a medal in Jakarta, going by my current form. But I did not want to torture my body further. I want to be physically fit and feel refreshed while starting my second innings — my life away from competitive sports,’’ says Gowda in an exclusive interview with Firstpost.

 Vikas Gowda, Indias most successful discus thrower, tired but at peace with himself post-retirement

File image of Vikas Gowda after winning silver medal in the men's discus throw final at Incheon Asian Games in 2014. AP

“The continuous pounding my body has taken over the last 20 years has definitely taken a toll. It is not like a sore throat where I can pop a pill and things will be fine. The pain and the discomfort keep on aggravating. I have always striven to give my 100 per cent during training and when I realised that I was falling short, I decided to quit,’’ adds the 34-year-old. Gowda was bogged down by a shoulder injury in run-up to the Rio Olympics and has also underwent a surgery on his left knee.

Gowda has been the flag bearer of India's hopes in athletics in the Olympics and the World Championships. He has taken part in four Olympics and made the final of the 2012 London Games where he finished eighth.

“The Commonwealth Games gold medal at Glasgow will be the high point of my career. But I also feel proud that between 2010-2015, I maintained tremendous consistency and for those five years, I was one of the top-ranked discus throwers in the world," said Gowda, who regularly figured in the elite Diamond League meets and won a silver at the Doha leg in 2015.

The imposing athlete kept his date with history during the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow when he became the first Indian after Milkha Singh to win a gold medal in the track and field events. "A World Championship and an Olympic medal may be missing, but I am leaving the sport with no regrets," he said.

Gowda, who trained at the famous John Godina World Throws Center in Arizona, is also fond of studying and teaching mathematics. He has graduated from the University of North Carolina in Mathematics and has taught the subject in the middle school. “I am planning to pursue a course in business management. However, I am undecided on what profession I will finally jump into," reveals the discus thrower.

Gowda announced his arrival on the international stage in 2006, winning the US National Collegiate Athletics Association championship. The stepping stone for top athletes in the world, NCAA championship is the premier athletics event featuring different universities in the USA. Gowda remains the only Indian to win a gold at this event, a performance that prompted the Indian coaches to sit up and follow his development. Competing in the Charlotte invitational meet, the then 22-year-old Gowda hurled the discus to a distance of 64.69 metres to create a new national record, eclipsing the mark set by Anil Kumar of 64.37m. He still holds the national record — a throw of 66.28m that he achieved in 2012.

According to former national record-holder in discus and currently a coach, Shakti Singh, none of the current male throwers can come anywhere close to the mark set by Gowda. "Unfortunately, the cupboard looks empty in terms of male throwers in discus. In the last Federation Cup early this year, the best throw achieved was 55.35m, way short of the 62m which was the qualifying mark for the Commonwealth Games," regrets Shakti.

Any plans to take up coaching to prepare future discus champions from India? “I definitely want to give back to the sport what I have learnt in all these years. The inputs that I received while working with John Godina were gold dust and I will love to share my knowledge with the youngsters. But I do not know at this stage what will be the perfect time for me to don the role of a coach," wonders Gowda.

Gowda had always trained in USA and hardly attended domestic events. Yet his achievements have made him a perfect role model for several young athletes. “I have never had a chance to meet him but the longevity of his athletics career is staggering," says Tejaswin Shankar, India’s national record-holder in long jump, currently training in Kansas, USA.

Despite his popularity, Gowda is invisible on the social media and rarely interacts with journalists. “I never needed the social media to vent my frustration or show my emotions. I am lucky to have a support system, including my family and inner circle of friends, with whom I can share my highs and lows."

Gowda is at peace with himself despite bidding adieu to the sport which has been his passion for 20 years. “I am all excited to make a fresh start," signs off Gowda.

Updated Date: May 31, 2018 20:08:57 IST